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John Davies: “Sexist and ridiculous” synchronised swimming

9 Aug, 12 | by BMJ Group

At the Aquatics, the synchronized swimming events have started. I will get myself into trouble with what I say about these, but to me they are sexist, ridiculous and lacking in any of the artistic merit they strive for. But they are extraordinary displays of athleticism!

First, only women compete. If they were true athletic contests, so would men, as in the gymnastic floor exercises, ice dance, and other combinations of physical and musical prowess. The contestants would not wear their extraordinary costumes and make up; swim suits, nay bodies, covered in glitter, patterned with garish and inappropriate designs; hair pulled back into so tight a bun that one fears for trichotillomania, then sprayed with so much lacquer that their heads shine as if varnished, and decorated with ornaments, as gaudy as a bawd.

Add to that make up, especially around the eyes, that evem Aunt Sally, Worzel Gummidge’s best friend, would think excessive. I mean, black mascara “eyelashes” from eyelid to eyebrow, over fluorescent green eye shadow, with cheek blusher more Jaffa than cherry blossom, scary enough for Hallowe’en.

This style of theatrical make up may have been useful in the 19th century music hall, where dim gas lights made it difficult to se the performers, but in a modern stadium, so bright that no camera flash is needed?

Then, the performance, to music that is incredibly loud (I presume so that they can hear it underwater), and in most cases is screechy and techno, with every kind of digital bell and whistle. The “compositions,” for surely they are especially “composed” for this purpose, have no tune or development, so that when the performance ends, often with them sinking under the water, only the ceasing of the music tells you that it has ended.

The posturing of the performers in the water betrays their wish to emulate the gymnasts or even the ballet, as they gesture, point their fingers, screw up their toes and wave their limbs about to no expressive effect. I fear that with only two limbs at a time seen above the water, they try to put all the expression that a dancer does in all four limbs into the visible pair. The effect, and the awful music, denies any possibility of “artistic expression” that the judges dutifully award points for.

And the smiles! The awful, rictus grins that every one has fixed to their face, even if the music seems to approximate Armageddon.

With some exceptions. The Spanish pair adopted the traditional Spanish hairdo, a tight bun, but almost no ornament, and restrained eye make-up with costumes that reflected traditional flamenco dress, without the skirts of course. Moreover, they performed to a tango, and even I, the miserable Scrooge of swimming, could see that they were doing the water equivalent of an “apache” dance, where one, usually a man, throws their unfortunate partner around the floor. They came second in the final, when I would have given them gold, although to be honest, I would have given gold not to see the whole event.

Bah humbug!

As a postscript to my last blog, I’m most grateful to Martin Clayton, senior curator of prints and drawings in the royal library for the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, for his reply to my email. Martin tells me what I could not read in the Latin mirror-writing that Leonardo’s own thoughts were: “Why the muscles of the anus are odd in number, and if this disparity were necessary, why were three or seven not chosen rather than five?”

He never answered his own question, but clearly he observed what appeared in the unpreserved corpse to be a pattern of five muscles, so the congruity with an ion channel is coincidence not prescient.

John Davies is a consultant anaesthetist in Lancaster, who takes part in motorsport as a competitor and as a rally doctor. He is volunteering as part of the Olympic games medical team in the aquatic centre. Over the next couple of weeks he will be blogging from the Olympic Park about his experience during the Olympic games.

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  • Jaci

    It’s sexist I guess in the same sense Dressage is “Classist”, elite and remote from most people’s normal experience. At least poor young women have a chance to compete in international competitions, although I doubt that’s the social group they come from predominantly but to me an Olympic sport should be anything someone can do drawing on their own physical and mental resources, and one which can enthuse a generation of poor young kids off the sofa/gamebox.

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